What is the history of Ladino and its alphabet?

A Treasured Language with a Long History

Prof. David M. Bunis is a world-renowned expert in Ladino (also known as Judezmo or Judeo-Spanish), the endangered language of Sephardic Jews. Prof. Bunis is based at the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Languages at the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He spent the 2013-14 academic year in Seattle as the Stroum Center’s Schusterman Visiting Professor of Israel Studies. While he was here, Prof. Bunis taught courses on Sephardic culture and two sections of Ladino, making the UW the only campus in the country where undergraduates could learn to read and write Ladino in the Hebrew alphabet.

In the spring of 2014, Prof. Bunis sat down for an interview with Prof. Devin Naar, Chair of the UW Sephardic Studies Program, to chat about the history of Ladino and its alphabet, which is called soletreo. You’ll find below three short excerpts from their conversation , as well as the full interview. Please also check out Prof. Bunis’s instructional video, Learn How to Write Soletreo (the Ladino Alphabet).

This video project was made possible by a partnership between the UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Languages of the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Find out more about the other innovative projects supported by the Stroum Center’s Faculty Digital Fellowship, which empowers professors to boost their public scholarship using new media.

Learning Soletreo: Devin & David’s Stories

Soletreo Today

The Shift Away from Soletreo

View the Full Interview

Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.
By |2018-04-17T13:41:59+00:00January 14th, 2015|Categories: Sephardic Studies, Video|Tags: , , , |5 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Hannah Pressman writes about modern Jewish culture, religion, and identity. A lifelong lover of languages and literatures, she earned her Ph.D. in modern Hebrew literature from New York University. She is co-editor of Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture (2012). Her writing has appeared in Tablet, the Forward, Lilith, eSefarad, and My Jewish Learning. Dr. Pressman is the former Communications Director and Graduate Fellowship Coordinator at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. She is currently at work on a memoir about her Sephardic family history, connected to explorations of contemporary American Jewish identity.


  1. Panos Theodoulides 2/13/2015 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    About 25 to 30 years ago I was walking in Salinica (Thessloniki, Greece) on a lazy Sunday luch time. From an anappartment I could hear people singing a familiar but also rather “exotic” song in a totaly unfamiliar language.Who are those people and what language is this?, I asked a local Greek man. The answer: those are Greek Jews and the language is Latino!

  2. Rachel Cohen 2/19/2015 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Yes, Panos!!

    The language is called LADINO or JUDESMO. It is basically 14th century Spanish that was spoken by the Spanish Jews that were expelled from Spain by 1492 .Many of these Jews went to the Ottoman Empire to establish themselves as they were welcomed by the Sultan at that time. Since Thessaloniki was an Ottoman city, these people (called Sephardic) brought their language.Over time,Salonika became a city with a very large Jewish population until WW2.

  3. […] Dr. Izo Abram, a researcher for our Sephardic Studies program based in Paris, kindly translated the soletreo inscription written on the back of the Souriano family’s Rosh Hashana […]

  4. Dr Michel Azaria 10/27/2015 at 5:38 am - Reply

    Ladino is not a spoken langauage. It is only used for religious purposes. Judezmo is the spoken language.

    Wrong naming leads only to confusion and occasionally worse!

    • Barry Yomtov 12/2/2016 at 4:03 pm - Reply

      Sorry Dr. Ladino is a spoken language, even today. My grandparents spoke it, my mother and I still speak it.

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